LAHORE: Former prime ministers and Pakistan Muslim League-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, as well as journalist Cyril Almeida, appeared before a full bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday in connection with a petition, seeking high treason case against them under Article 6 of the Constitution.
The three-judge bench comprising Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Masood Jahangir was hearing a petition, seeking treason case against Nawaz Sharif for tarnishing the country’s sovereignty through an interview on Mumbai attacks and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for allegedly sharing information of National Security Council meeting with Nawaz Sharif, and Cyril Almeida for conducting a controversial interview and publishing it.
The bench directed both former PMs to submit their replies to the petition and asked the federal government to furnish a comprehensive report regarding what steps the cabinet division had taken against former premiers under Article 6 of the Constitution.
The courtroom No6 was packed to the capacity as lawyers and political figures thronged tmake their presence felt on the arrival of Nawaz Sharif. As the proceedings commenced, Justice Naqvi asked Cyril Almeida’s counsel why did he (Almeida) not appear before the court despite issuance of notices. Almeida’s counsel replied they had not received court summons.
Almeida’s counsel Ahmed Rauf told the court that during the last hearing, he had stated that he was informed over the phone about the petition and was not even aware of the content. Prior to Monday’s hearing, the lawyer had already filed written replies and comments on behalf of Almeida.
However, the court withdrew the non-bailable arrest warrant against Almeida, making it clear that warrants were issued only to secure his attendance. The bench also directed interior ministry to remove Cyril’s name from Exit Control List as well.
The court asked the deputy attorney general whether the federal government had taken any decision regarding the investigation in the case. The court was told that the case pertained to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and they have to conduct an inquiry in the case.
“How this case pertains to Pemra? It seems you have not read the petition,” Justice Mazahar Ali Naqvi remarked, adding that this is a sensitive case and attorney general himself should appear before the court.
“What action has the government taken with respect to Article 6?” Justice Jahangir asked. Irked at the absence of the attorney general, Justice Naqvi ordered that he attend the next hearing on Oct 22 and submit a complete report on the matter.
Justice Naqvi also issued notice to the secretary for Ministry of Defence to submit para-wise comments regarding the accusations contained in the instant constitutional petition. “Did you keep the promise you had made? Is Nawaz Sharif here,” Justice Naqvi asked PML-N’s senior advocate Naseer Ahmed Bhutta, who replied “we are always here in courts whether we were the prime minister, former prime minister, petitioner or even defendant.” To it, the court room burst into laughter. Justice Naqvi remarked in a lighter vein, “you are welcome here”.
Where is Nawaz Sharif, asked Justice Naqvi. At this, Khaqan Abbasi and PML-N’s counsel requested Nawaz Sharif to stand up. Nawaz Sharif stood up to show his presence in the courtroom. The court, however, abstained from asking him to come up to the rostrum and explain his position and sought reply from him instead.
Nawaz, Abbasi and Almeida’s attendance was noted and all three respondents were ordered to submit written replies to the court and appear before the bench on Oct 22. Justice Naqvi asked Abbasi whether he filed an application seeking exemption from personal appearance as you had requested during previous proceedings.
Abbasi replied his lawyer would do so. However, Justice Naqvi adjourned hearing till Oct 22 after he was informed that by-elections were being held on Oct 14 and Abbasi was contesting from Lahore.
Meanwhile, a local lawyer Afaq Ahmed filed a petition requesting that the treason case be set aside, arguing that it was not in accordance with the law, and did not hold the signature of the petitioner, but instead of her lawyer. “The high court rolls do not allow action on such petitions,” Ahmed maintained.
Ahmed asked the court to make him party to the treason petition and scrap the case against Sharif. The maintainability of the petition must be assessed. It was not taken up by the court on Monday.
In the previous hearing, Abbasi was present in the court for the hearing while Nawaz and Almeida were absent and the court had placed Almeida’s name on the Exit Control List and issued non-bailable warrants for his arrest for not attending the court proceedings.
Lawyers and politicians were also seen taking selfies with former prime ministers, which annoyed Nawaz. He could not reach the court rostrum due to rush and had to find a seat in the rear part of the courtroom. Prominent PML-N leaders Javed Hashmi, Asif Kirmani and others were present in the courtroom, which got suffocated.
As the proceedings concluded, the lawyers chanted slogans “Yeh jo kala kot hay, Nawaz Tera vote hay” (black coats are voters of Nawaz) in the court room. The windowpanes of the courtroom were broken and furniture was badly damaged as Nawaz was leaving the courtroom.
The security was enhanced as heavy contingent of police and Rangers were deployed outside the court. Several workers of PML-N were also present outside the premises of LHC and surrounded Nawaz when he reached the court.
A greater vigilance at the entry and exit points of the court was also seen. The movement of litigants was stopped after Nawaz Sharif entered the court premises. Several PML-N political workers were barred from entering the court premises.
Nawaz also refrained from media talk and left the court premises in heavy security. Civil society member Amina Malik had filed the petition through advocate Muhammad Azhar Siddique on the basis of an interview given by Sharif to an English language daily on May 11. According to the petition, the former PM spoke about cross-border militancy and the need to end it in reference to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
After publication of the interview, the National Security Council held a meeting to deliberate on the matter. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was prime minister at the time, called on Sharif to take him into confidence about the deliberations.
According to the petitioner, Abbasi’s action amounted to sedition as he had violated his oath of office. The petitioner had argued that Nawaz’s controversial interview to a newspaper had dented the country’s image and sovereignty. He further alleged that Abbasi supported Nawaz in the matter.
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